The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford is a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator – in much the same vein as other, more famous releases this year (The Girl on the Train coming instantly to mind, although it seems unfair to compare the two). Dana, the eponymous ‘pocket wife’ (a term explained in the book, and I shan’t ruin that here), wakes up one afternoon after a drunken row with her friend and neighbour, Celia. She soon discovers that Celia had been murdered that afternoon but Dana’s memory is sketchy at best. To make things worse, Dana is suffering from a mental breakdown and goes manic. The book flips between Dana’s madness and her drive to discover whether she is a murderer and Detective Moss’ investigation into Celia’s death – and there are a lot of suspects!
I love unreliable narrators – those that make me question everything and make my mind spin, and Dana was most definitely one of those. She even doubted herself. As in any ‘who dun it’, this book pulls you in and makes you ask who the murderer is, questioning each and every character in your head. When I had decided, definitively, that the murderer must be Dana, my mind would suddenly flip-flop and I would decide, definitively, that the murderer must be Ronald (Celia’s grieving husband). I did piece together all the clues and actually, I worked out who the murderer was before it was revealed, although it was only a few pages before and I don’t feel this ruined the reading. I rarely guess the ending to thrillers like this, and I felt a strange sense of pride. The clues to the solution, though they seem few and far between, must have been there for me to see.
What’s odd about this book though, is that it wasn’t particularly the murder case that interested me – although I was curious to a degree. It was Dana’s madness that got me hooked. As she descended further and further into chaos, so the pace of the prose increased and actually became increasingly poetic. As the pace of the prose increased, so did the pace of my reading and the pace at which my mind worked. I was dragged along and washed away, as though I’d accidently stepped into a fast-flowing river of words and thoughts and ideas. It was a torrent, and I liked it. It was almost as though I was experiencing the madness myself – the quickening heart, the confused thoughts, the racing mind, and Crawford’s ability to do that is impressive. Add that to her sometimes beautifully crafted lines and the poetic rhythm of her prose and you’ve got yourself a few fantastic chapters.
It wasn’t all good though. Once the murderer was revealed, I became a little frustrated to be honest. Whilst the book had been full of switching and swapping of ideas and points of view, of fast-paced unreliability, the ending became a neat swirl of icing with a cherry on top or a nicely wrapped parcel with a bow. It was all summed up, nice and neatly, and didn’t leave anything really to the imagination. And of course, Crawford managed to squeeze in a little love story too (and I’m sure by now that you know how I feel about that!). It was as though once the murderer was revealed and once Dana’s madness died down, there was nothing left to keep me going. I didn’t really care about the ‘how’s and ‘why’s of it all, and I wasn’t really bothered about the future of the characters. They had told their story, and that was enough for me. I became bored and found myself skimming through the last of it and that, I’m afraid to say, was a disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable read.
So there it is – an ultimately disappointing ending. I can’t deny, though, that the process reading this book was enjoyable and actually, it kept me up well past my bedtime over the three nights that I read it. I would read more of Crawford’s, if just for her wonderful way with words and the great way in which she paces the narrative – I’ll just hope for a slightly better ending next time.